We meet to catch up. I thought we would have a cup of coffee in the concourse of Pybus Market but Glen Carlson will have no part of such idleness. “Let’s talk while we walk,” he says, and off we go on a most pleasant stroll along the Loop and through the Horan Natural Area. The late-afternoon air is still, the perfume of poplar saturates the riverfront, and the surroundings flutter with all fashions of feathered flying machines.
Glen is the marketing/advertising guy for Cascade Auto Center and 47 employees at Cascade Auto (half of the company), I soon learn, are engaged in a most interesting 90-day fitness program. All participating employees have been outfitted with Fitbits and placed randomly on one of four company teams. Those teams are now competing to see which logs the most walking (or running) mileage on a monthly basis and over 90 days. As each employee walks, whether that’s at work or at play, the data is transmitted in real time from their Fitbit to their team’s running totals. Employees can see, through computers or smartphones, what they have tallied individually, what they’ve contributed to the team effort, and how their team is stacking up against the competition. They can find out whether Ravenclaw, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, or Gryffindor has the lead.**
This is why Glen and I are catching up on foot rather than over a cup of coffee. There is no way he is letting a 90-minute meeting add blubber to his bottom when he could be earning miles for his team.
This isn’t, however, why Glen and I have met. It’s not to discuss company programs or the technology that makes this effort possible. But we’re guys so we’re easily distracted, technology is cool, and talking about feelings and family isn’t manly talk. So Glen shows me just what that Fitbit on his wrist coupled with the smartphone in his pocket can accomplish and why the instant feedback is so engaging. And he gives me some impressive stats: In total, when the 90-days of this program is done, the 47 employees participating are on track to have, collectively, walked 9,000 miles. That’s about 1.33 times around the circumference of the moon. Not bad for a bunch of folks who sell and service cars for a living.
Even though this isn’t why Glen and I have met, there’s a lot of meat here so I salt him with questions and he peppers me with answers. The program combines personal welfare, responsibility to a group, good-natured competition, and the fun of having an excuse to walk more into a rather complex stew of motivations that was inspired company employees to engage in activity that’s goodfor them. A few of the employees have shed a lot of weight – one in particular, he calls the Incredible Shrinking Woman. “It’s been so inspiring to see her use this program as a lever to turn her health around.
A stretch of the Loop Trail where the chance to de-stress on a walk is good for mind, body, and team.
And of course what’s good for the goose (individual employees) is good for the gander (Cascade Auto). When it comes to weight alone, studies compiled by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that obese and morbidly obese people are, respectively, absent from work 50 to 100 percent more days per year than their normal-weight peers. And this says nothing about the higher degree of optimism and the increased productivity of fit versus unfit employees.
With the company’s first foray into a walking-oriented fitness program coming to an end, we discuss what’s next. Will intracompany competitions continue with remixed teams (probably)? Will the company work collectively to walk around the perimeter of the moon twice (yes, although not as its own goal)? Will Cascade Auto challenge other local businesses to see which can log the best average of miles-walked-per-employee (hopefully)? Glen doesn’t know the answers but there are many wrinkles for keeping company fitness programs interesting. Eventually Glen tires of all my queries – he suspects from the details I’m gleaning that I’ve switched into work mode and am using him to write an article (he’s an astute one, that one). “You know, this isn’t why we got together to talk.”
This article was originally 06/05/2015.